Spigel is the Frances E. Willard Professor of Screen Cultures at the School of Communication at Northwestern University. Spigel received her Ph.D. from UCLA's Department of Film and Television, and is best known for her work on American post-war culture and popular media forms (televisions, architecture, etc.)
Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America Edit
In this slim book, Lynn Spigel documents the myriad ways by which the television shifted U.S. domestic relationships, trying to understand its impact on architecture, domestic entertainment, neighborhood relationships, and family structures in the post-war period. The method of the book is based largely in rhetorical and visual analysis of advertisements and instructional/domestic women's literature (Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, etc.), which is also combined with content readings of television shows themselves. No survey or oral history is used; rather than employing "experience" based research, Spigel opts to provide generalized analysis of television's rhetorical culture in the postwar period.
Chapter One: Domestic Ideals and Family AmusementsEdit
In chapter one, Spigel provides a general lit review of domestic culture prior to the television, namely middle-class Victorian culture. Spigel suggests that the TV should be "framed" through a history of familial recreation, which explains gender, age and privacy divsions of the home. In this chapter, Spigel explores "how ideals of family life and domestic recreation supplied a framework of ideas and expectations about how television could best be incorporated into the home. It traces the development of domestic ideology in the Victorian era; the changes that took place within that ideology with the rise of suburbia and consumer-family life-styles; and the corresponding innovation of domestic amusement machines. Finally, it details how the broadcast industry responded to the history of family ideals when introducting radio and television to the public" (11-12).
The historical review Spigel provides is common, swiftly detailed how cultural producers erected a model of home life that supported a division between the inside and outside worlds, largely based on a nostalgic sympathy for Jeffersonian agrarianism. Private ownership of home and land on the outskirts of the city provided a way for the middle-class to "uphold the republic's agrarian values" while participating in industrialization. Mentioned here are Andrew Jackson Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses and the work of Catharine Beecher. Victorian arrangements kept women at home, with the trade-off that they were the moral gaurdians and gaurentors of the family's well-being. While commercial amusements where full of circuses, minstrel shows and arcades of visual and aural technologies, domestic entertainment was to be edifying and without temptation: piano-playing, Bible readings, horticulture, etc.
The 1870s begin a period of transition in domestic arrangements. As domestic ideology more fully merged with consumer culture, urban centers were seen as an acceptable site of female activity, providing access to goods, servants and feminine social networks; the urban home, properly tended, was a respectable respite from the city outside. However, in the very late years of the 19th century, rising immigration and the migration of black southerners, along with the rising tide of radical-socialist and women's rights movements produced a reverse trend back toward the suburbs--but this time facilitated by the railroad, which made coming and going from the city more resonable. The religious tenets of domesticity "were increasingly accompanied, and at times replaced, by a consumer mentality" (17). Family entertainment, while still wholesome, increasingly involved consumer goods.
As the tenets of inside/outside became increasingly hard to preserve, and poverty, overcrowding, and female working class labor defied bourgeoise ideals, Victorian domestic ideology took a hit. Hysteria has been considered the psychosomatic response to the inherent contradictions and stresses of this lifestyle. It became more acceptable for women to spend the day in the city at theaters, department stores and museums; in reverse, men were being tasked with being more involved in family life; advice literature advocated that men practice compassionate marriage by taking more responsibility for the home and family.
As building expenses rose because of new amenities (electricity, plumbing), it was harder to afford large homes that could so easily seperate public and private life. Through the Progressive Era (the period of social activism between 1890 and 1920), family relations became more informal, and there was a greater merging between the public world of commercial amusement and domestic life. The home became less a site of "work" (as homes were no longer primary sites of resource production) and domestic machines enhanced the sense of "play" (23). (In the background of these themes is the "machine in the garden" compensating anxiety over industrialization vs. pastoralism). Additionally, commercial amusements such as theater (where the sexes could freely mingle) eroded control over private/public recreation. However, broadcasting emerged as a perhaps ameliorating technology that kept people localized to their radio and later TV sets, requiring "private ownership, government regulation, networks, commercial sponsorships, and private reception in the home" (27). Radio was integrating as both a women's past time and an object of interior design. Television ownership itself didn't spike until the post-war boom that reflected an overall rise in domestic appliance ownership: "television installation into the American home took place at a time when domesticity was a central preoccupation of the burgeoning middle class" (33). Over 90% of men and women married, at younger ages and had baby boom children, formed around the social construct of "prefabricated suburban tract home, so affordable that young middle-class couples, and at times lower-middle class, blue-collar workers, could purchase their piece of the American dream" (33). Government funded housing contracts produced cheap houses and domestic magazines convinced women of their familial obligations. Domestic life at this time was "an updated version of the family ideal, capable of negotiating traditional ideas about domesticity with the realities of postwar experience [...] while postwar culture was filled with nostalgia for former visions of family life, it was bent on building a new future responsive to the particular concerns of the present" (34). Television's role in this was such that "discourses on television were organized around the social hierarchies of family life and the division of spheres that had been the backbone of domestic ideology since the Victorian era" (35).
Chapter Two: Television in the Family CircleEdit
Opening with a scene from Rebel Without a Cause, Spigel's second chapter explores tensions between unity vs. division in the family practices of TV watching. Spatialization of the home and questions regarding where the television belonged were topics of 1950s women literature. Spigel notes that the television set takes the place of the piano, while architectural layouts make space for the TV and "family rooms" develop to take the place of the once traditional Victorian parlour. Closeness was what was most needed, a semi-circle arrangement of seats radiating toward the TV. TVs were designed to fit into interior design of homes, possibly suggesting a desire to fit in, or, alternatively, a sense of shame attached to ownership. Family discord was often attributed to television, particularly in regards to children's passivity before the receiver. As children's leisure was increasingly monopolized by the set, advice materials also suggested ways of parents to create discipline around the teleivision: "Faced with the bureaucratized institutions of a mass culture that adults found difficult to change, parents could nevertheless exercise their power by disciplining children through a careful system of reward and punishment" (57). Magazines rated the acceptability of television shows, and monitoring became a middle-class practice (working classes were far less interested). "Expert" advice became the norm, and "experts" began to police families; parents relied on information produced by "expert" institutions to make parenting decisions. It was believed that radio emasculated fathers (sets no longer needed a male tinkerer), and the trope of the hen-pecked husband becomes part of television sitcom work. Family togetherness, in the disrupted home, was achieved by making sure everyone could have private access to a room (sometimes employing alcoves and room dividers and the Duoscope).
Chapter Three: Women's WorkEdit
Chapter three comprises an analysis of how TV broadcasting was shaped into the lifestyles and practices of female housewives who, by their very economic position, were ideal "distracted viewers". Housewives, the unpaid laborers of the home were perfect subject for the domestic recreation of TV, which was able to produce blurred relations between "work" and "play". Work was coupled with leisure by the first channels to produce regularly scheduled day programming (the genre of the soap opera begins in 1950). Many television formats were retro-fitted from radio and print media, allowing women to tune in and out rather than offer undivided attention. Women's magazines and TV stations combine efforts to attractive female reader/viewership. The task of these shows, then, was to "appeal to the average middle-class housewife, it had to make its consumer fantasies fit with the more practical concerns of female viewership" (83). Television watching become a desiredly routinized aspect of domestic life. Female hostesses emerge, as does a rhetoric of what makes a successful host persona. However, these network efforts were often met with the contradictory influence of popular media, which rejected the notion that women could couple TV viewership and domestic chores (untidy wives become a stock character); TV's were often placed in the kitchen to permit women to work and watch simultaneously. TV dinners and continuous space become topics in this chapter (continuous space helps ameliorate housewife isolation that increased with the evaporation of servants--ranch style homes helped women be a part of the family while still tending to their gender specific tasks) (90-91). Male television watching was aligned with leisure, while female TV watching was intended to be productive. These gendered divisions of labor and leisure were "thus shown to organize the experience of watching television" (98).
Chapter Four: The Home TheaterEdit
Suburban living involved a concominant removal from traditional community life in urban areas, which often involved close quarters networks with family, friends and generations of relatives. In the suburban model, the family was nuclearized and participated in neighborhood politics in new ways: "they secured a position of meaning in the public sphere through their new-found social indentities as private landowners" (101). While plate glass picture windows complicated public/private divisions, Modernist aesthetics spread to watered-down versions of mass produced homes. TVs offered the ability to go places without going anywhere; domestic technologies replaced community facilities and spectator amusements slumped as the family theater took viewers where ever they wanted to go. The home theater was to replicate the theater experience with climate controls, sounds, and managed gaze. Notions of neighborhood shifted as "suburban space was thus designed to purify communal spaces, to sweep away urban clutter, while at the same time preserving the opulist ideal of good neighborliness that carried Americans through the depression" (110). Rhetorics of electricity and sanitation. Concerns about the television set as "the other woman" and displacing male sexuality on the images on screen (120). Neighborhood guests, lose of trans-generational networks, and senses of claustrophobia (128).
Chapter Five: The People in the Theater Next DoorEdit
This final chapter is primarily one examining the history of the sitcom style to "explore the 'dialogue' between a communications medium and its wider cultural context" (136). Originating from a vaudeville style, as time went on and viewership expanded, this was no longer seen as a desireable genre subtext (shift from an urban to a national standard).